Tuesday February 26, 2002 Homily by Fr. Robert Altier Second Week of Lent
Reading (Isaiah 1:10, 16-20) Gospel (St. Matthew 23:1-12)
In the Gospel reading today, Our Lord makes a clear distinction between the way that His apostles have to be and the way that He sees the scribes and the Pharisees living. The way He sees them living is speaking, perhaps, what is true - but not living it. He tells us that we have to live it. It is not enough to be able to speak the truth; we have to act upon the truth; we have to live the truth out in our day-to-day lives.
In the first reading, we hear, in essence, the same thing. God tells the people that if they are willing and they obey then they will have the good things; but if they refuse and resist then the sword is going to consume them. In this case, it is the sword of their own sinfulness. And so He gives us the option: He says, "Though your sins be as scarlet, they will become white as snow; though they be crimson red, they will become white as wool." But that, He says, is only if we do what is right. He says to cease doing evil, to learn to do good, to make justice your aim, to redress the wronged, to hear the orphans plea, and to defend the widow - all these points where we need to look at justice and charity to ask ourselves if we are really living what it is that we profess. We state the truth; we know what the truth is; the question has to do with living the truth.
We cannot be about being seen. He condemns the scribes and Pharisees again for that: for widening their phylacteries, wearing huge tassels, sitting in front seats and being in places of honor, having titles, and all of these things. That is not what it is about. It is about service. And what we will normally notice is that the people who want to serve others remain reasonably hidden: While everyone else is patting one another on the back, that is the person who is out actually doing the work and serving the needs of the people around them. They are not interested in being noticed; they are not interested in any kind of recognition of whatever it might be; they are interested only in trying to do the work of God and to help the people around them. That is the way that we need to be.
We need to ask ourselves, "Where is my pride getting in the way? Where am I doing things so that I will be noticed? Where am I hoping that I will be seen and that people will recognize what it is that I am doing?" Where, on the other hand, are we just simply seeking to do the Will of God, to try to serve the needs of others, to make sure that we are not only speaking what is right, but above all that we are doing what is right? That is what we need to be considering: that we are doing it for God - that we are not doing it for any selfish purpose and we are not looking for any kind of applause; but rather, we are simply seeking to do the right thing for the right reason.
If that is the case, then God tells us that we are making up for our sins. That is how we are putting away the past deeds and we are putting on something new. It is the way that we atone for the sinfulness in our lives. That is what the Lord is asking us to do. It is certainly to confess our sins so that they can be forgiven, but it is also to make up for the sins through good deeds done out of love for God and love for neighbor.
* This text was transcribed from the audio recording of a homily by Father Robert Altier with minimal editing.